As a widening scandal involving misuse of public funds and other ethical breaches by its top brass grips the University of California, The Sacramento Bee’s editorial board criticized UC’s largest employee union for advocating greater scrutiny of potential conflicts of interest at UC (“Let’s step back from UC Davis turmoil”; May 1). The board also criticized AFSCME Local 3299 for legislation that would encourage UC elites to stop squandering public funds on private contractors that exploit low-wage workers.
There are thousands of contract custodians, landscapers, food service workers and others who do the same full-time jobs as direct UC employees for a fraction of the pay and no benefits. Instead of bringing these workers in-house, UC has fought to ensure its well-connected contractors continue to profit by condemning legions of these workers to lives of poverty and second-class status.
News outlets have unearthed incidents of illegal conduct by several of the companies to whom UC awards these lucrative deals – including allegations of wage theft, retaliation, sexual assault and an investigation by the U.S. Department of Labor.
After a boycott led UC to insource nearly 100 subcontracted workers with 440 years of collective experience at Berkeley, our union sponsored legislation that would guarantee other contract workers equal pay with UC employees who do the same jobs, and bar the university from contracting for service work with private companies that violate state labor laws.
UC has recently told the Legislature that providing livable wages and direct employment to contract workers affected by Senate Bill 959 wouldn’t cost UC a dollar more. In fact, they’ve said it might even save money since $138 million of the $345 million that UC spends on such deals is squandered on overhead and contractor profits.
In other words, the editorial board’s assertions about SB 959 simply do not add up.
The University of California plays a key role as a leading economic engine for our state with a vital public service mission rooted not in lining the pockets of UC executives or private contractors, but in helping working Californians access ladders to the middle class. We can recommit to these values by supporting fiscally responsible UC contracting reform like SB 959.
Kathryn Lybarger is president of AFSCME Local 3299. Contact her at email@example.com.